Archive for the ‘rehearsal diary’ Category

First Scratch day

June 11, 2008

We have been split in two groups (Apple and Cart) The group I am in will be performing to a group of babies and toddlers this thursday, I am joined by Oily Cart performers Nicole Worrica and Kathy Toy and easter Region artists (provided by Theatre is) Kathyrn Holt – Storytell, Sally Abbott – Writer and practitioner, Emma – Painter. After experimenting with initial ideas around bubbles and having me as a stylised ring leader we settle on a plan for our version of poolpiece around around a chest that I open to reveal an inspiration for our activities for instance when i first open it bubbles come out and we then lead the group through making bubble with silver bowls  under the water, popping bubbles in the air, placing bubbles on the body. One thing is very clear – making effective interactive beautiful theatre foe this age group in a pool is very hard to get right. Tim Webb (artistic director of Oily Cart) looks over our shoulders with the mantra – ‘less is more’ we find we must constantly re-assess what we are doing and why and that many compliations quickly slip into the design. I have five of my poems (Welcome to the pool, Low low low, Byron Laughs, Collective Pool Nouns, and Spit POP Spit) laminated by the side of the pool – note to self laminated does not mean water proof!- which i am drawing on to add poetry to the performance but it has become clear that I have to write as we go through the process in order to have poetry that is appropriate to what we are doing. Last night I wrote a new piece ‘ lullaby me cuddle dry me which i hope to include at the end where we give parents the opportunity to cuddle dry their children you can view this poem and the rest under poetry. I’m off to take my hayfever medication and get back to the pool!


Seeing the show for the first time

June 11, 2008

It was astounding to see the show in all its glory. Talking to the cast and crew it was clear that their first week of performance had been a very special, deeply moving, one for them. They talk of the joy of being resident in the school and having the opportunity to get to know the children and see them change as the days progressed.

I watched two shows on monday (Umbrella man’s day) The production has a real sense of peace and tranquility. The cast are obviously very experienced and skilled in what they do being sensitive to the children and responding to them and their needs. The production is calm and offers a lot of space as well as moments of high energy. The pool changes over forty minutes from a serene still pool to an undulating ocean and back again.

The production looks gorgeous – the costumes, the set pieces, the lighting all are beautifully executed, a chinese boat about a meter across is shored on one side of the pool. White sails sit around the edges, and umbrella trees of white and silver and light arc over the pool.

Choreography thoughts…

June 1, 2008

Working with Oily Cart as a choreographer has been unlike any other working experience I have had.

In my choreography for my own company I am increasingly in favour of leaving movement unset in order to give my dancers the opportunity to keep playing with what they’re doing until the final stages of rehearsal and sometimes in performance as well. But before the Pool Piece, I had never been involved in making something in which the audience dictates what happens to such an extent that absolutely anything could be a possibility.

What a fantastic opportunity for an audience to have! If you don’t like bubbles, fair enough, here’s a sponge for you! Not impressed by that? Take this umbrella! It really is testament to the generosity of the creative team behind Oily Cart and the performers’ ability to remain totally unphased by all eventualities that there is sufficient space within the Pool Piece for the audience to make their mark on their journey round the pool.

Some of my favourite things I’ve witnessed from the pool side or experienced for myself during rehearsals for the Pool Piece have been colanders pouring into pools of light, masses of bubbles, getting very wet (and dry), Gong’s ‘hello’ song – well, all the songs in fact – and the often startling effect all these have on the young people who explore the treasures of the pool. I say startling because the visitors’ responses can be so unlike anything you’d expect, because clearly the Pool Piece experience is such a break from routine for those young people.

For me the most valuable things I have learnt while working with Oily Cart and have emphasised in my role as choreographer have been:

  • how engaging simple things can be
  • the extent to which we can all benefit from maintaining a sense of curiosity towards all things – it’s more relevant to play and participate than make assumptions and structure meticulously in this work (so unfortunately the synchronised swimming idea went out the window!)
  • the importance of maintaining a group focus, or collecting things back together (e.g. at the sound of the gong)
  • and once again that all things are options. I taught a dance workshop in a primary school a couple of weeks ago and a boy at the front stood and stared at me for the first half an hour without moving a muscle. All his friends kept muttering and telling me that James always did this – I replied that if that’s what James wanted to do, they should let him get on with it. By the time they weren’t noticing him any more he’d joined in, absolutely no problem. I thank the team at Oily Cart for teaching me about patience and openness and the wonderful results they can yield (and also for the fact that now when someone asks me whether we’ll be needing water for a workshop/new project I hesitate ever so slightly and wonder whether they mean water to drink, or water to swim through!)

Thank you thank you to everyone, and I can’t wait to see the first performances next week!

Rehearsal Day – Wednesday, May 21st – Diary Entry from Aoife

May 24, 2008

Today we’re back rehearsing in Oily Cart’s studio.  The room is filled with mist.  Sponge practices lifting the treasure chest to reveal the treasures of the pool.  Tim, the director, decides it would be more effective to have Sponge emerging from the mist, magically summoning up the treasure chest and for it to open to reveal that the treasures are a collection of sponges.  Sponge takes these out to gently massage the children. He will squeeze water on their hands and a little bit over their heads if they like it. Everything about him is slow and dignified and he speaks in a very deep, low voice.

Over lunch Tim, Joe and myself have a chat about how the scratch days might work.  We hope to use some of the poems written for this blog as inspiration for the scratch performances.  Tim and Max, the music director, show us photos from Oily Cart’s early days – it’s interesting to see how the company has evolved without losing any of their zany sense of humour!

Back in the rehearsal studio, there is much discussion on the art of bubble making.  The room is full of sugar bubbles that are far more resilient than simple washing up liquid bubbles.    One of the bubble shooters makes too much noise so Tim decides they should use the other one.  There is a giant umbrella with silver lapels inside and covered on the outside in white reflective material that catches the light giving the impression of tiny light bulbs.  Gong, with her sweet high voice and floating gongs, introduces children to the sounds of the pool.  She will also have a ship that accompanies her.  Bubbles has a pitcher of bubbles that she carries and introduces herself by popping bubbles.  She is always bubbly, singing and very friendly.  It seems to me that the characters of the show are by now very firmly established and all the magical effects fit perfectly with the character they’re associated with.  There are large sheets on the wall that list the main actions of each character’s day.  Tim talks through these and any adjustments that have been made.

For the final part of rehearsal, we go outside to rehearse the bus busk.  Sponge and Lights sport their water backpacks.  Lights spells out his name with his powerful water spray while Sponge can shower water over us.  There are long pipes that are moved in and out of large buckets of water to create an impressive whistle drumming effect.  Feet are also splashed in rhythm while each character sings their goodbye song.   It’s a high energy celebration that should be really good fun for the students when they’re leaving at the end of their school day.  Jesus, the production manager, comes out with some special bubble mixture to help Bubbles practice making giant bubbles with a long stick and an adjustable strap.  It’s a bit tricky in the wind but when it works is very exciting!

Tuesday 20th May – By Joseph

May 21, 2008

On the last day of festivities at each school the show will perform what is known as a ‘bus busk’. the bus busk is a musical sending off of the children as they go from the school to the bus that will take them home. A very important part of the busk is saying goodbye to the children as well as getting them a bit wet one last time. Today the cast are trying to find the best way to say goodbye and go from quite an upbeat…

‘Goodbye to him and him
nah nah nah nah nahhhhhh nah’

which inspired the following peotic response from me…

Goodbye to him and him and him
And her
And ‘er
And them
And Us
And We
And y’all
And pool and school
And pool and school
And pool and school
and getting Wet

The cast went on to try a more bayou flavour…

‘This is how bubbles says goodbye
She can do it all night
She can do it all day
but she’ll only ever do it this way’

With each character finding their own unique way of saying goodbye. Now at this point I should mention that there are some new toys, namely Ghostbuster style backpacks filled with water and attached to various squirting contraptions. Sponge has a squirting crown, and Umbrella man has… you guessed it, a squirting Umbrella! So as you can imagine the characters goodbyes involve lots of squirting and merry making. Bubbles says goodbye with some bubblerly exclamations and a string of Bubbles and Gong has the delightfully cute ‘Hel-lo Hel-lo Hel-lo’

Katie and I were kids again who were led past these wacky characters to an imaginary bus underneath Umbrella mans Umbrella (the clear plastic – dry one) to protect us from some of the more active squirters!

During this wet run there was musical accompaniment via drums, ‘Malcolm’s pipes’ (Pipes with whistles on the end that hoot when plunged in water) and water drumming.

When the weather is hot the Bus busk is going to be a real pleasure and I won’t be surprised to hear of the odd spontaneous water fight.

Monday 19th May- By Joseph

May 20, 2008

Today I have he pleasure of being a child. We are at Casa Di Oily and there are some new toys in the room. Bubbles has a massive blue and white jug sculpture and a host of bubble making machines, Sponge has a table filled with… sponges, Gong has a metallic array strewn with bells and Umbrella man has a cloth parasol and a see thru umbrella and various squirters.

Each is asked to create a signature movement with their toys before engaging Katie, Tim and I. We stand and watch delighted as Bubbles looks for the source of her voice in her Jug, Umbrella man shuts his head in his umbrella like a vertical clam, Gong busies herself with the tinkering of the bells and Sponge is getting very messy with a can of shaving foam. These Toys all make up water features that will be the characters emblems of gushing. At the moment they are not gushing, but there are lots of well placed bowls and jugs dotted around the room so that water can be poured on to the sculptures. This set up is the plan for the first day of the show – introducing the characters without the pool. Here the characters will be somewhat aloof and the children drawn into their weird OCD worlds.

Carefully, gingerly we walk towards eh character, Tim has asked that we be very honest regarding our reactions to the sensations we are put through. We go through this process several times in the afternoon and I am struck by several things at each station. Gong Enthralls me with a game of bell and voice call and response. I tap a bell, she says something, I tap another bell she says something else. It only over too soon. At one point she gets me very interested by rubbing her stick up and down the ribbed sides of her bowl, she slaps the bowl when my head is near it, not hard, but enough to make me flinch due to a nasty memory – at school we would ask each other to listen to the table!? and once our victim lay their head upon the obscenity scarred surface we would slap it hard resulting in ear pain for them and detentions for us. I should make it clear that Gong has no such intention and is not at all brutal with the banging it is actually very low and pleasant – but instinct and memory are powerful things.

I recall being with Umbrella Man. He plays peeka Boo with me using the umbrella, starting outside of it and then snaking his head underneath – again I could be entertained by this for absolutely ages. He also creates a fantastic draft of air by wafting both parasol and umbrella up and down. With the wetness of my hands from his squirting mistifiers and super soaker! the drafts are very refreshing and quite pleasant.

Sponge fills my hands with foam and encourages me to slap them together – this is fun and feels especially naughty but I quickly want the towel to wipe my hands, trousers, face, hair, shirt etc down. Sponge proceeds to give me a comforting hand massage… well actually the first massage given is a bit uncomfortable because the sponges remind one of chewing cotton wool or the infamous nails down a black board. The second massage I have with him is very gentle with much softer sponges – it’s amazing the difference little details like this make.

Bubbles surrounds me with bubbles – tiny bubbles, small bubbles, big bubbles, strings of bubbles and even lets me use the bubble machines! The machines are great they are basically fans attached to bubble rings and once loaded with sugar solution can send many bubbles up into the rafters. once given the bubble makers I get to cover bubbles in bubbles which is a hoot and reminds one of the joys to be found in giving as well as receiving.

With all the wonders generated from the sculptures when dry – the mind boggles at what will be created once they’re in the pool.

Rehearsal Day – Friday, May 16th – Diary Entry from Aoife

May 19, 2008

Rehearsal Day – Friday, May 16th  – Diary Entry from Aoife

Today is Umbrella Man’s day in the pool.  He has a small black umbrella hat and an enormous white parasol that he twirls over the children’s heads.  The two children in the first group make an interesting contrast.  One boy is really excited and seems to love splashing around.  He sings along to the welcome song and is fascinated by the gongs, he even plays them a little himself.  Umbrella Man has a giant colander that he lets water pour through creating a shower effect.  The other little boy is rather intimidated by all this and looks uncertain.  But when Umbrella Man takes him slightly away from the splashing and gives him a smaller bowl to pour for himself, he starts smiling broadly and is now very happy to go under the small clear plastic umbrellas.  This seems to me a really good example of how the show can be adapted to meet different children’s needs.  There are over riding themes to the different sections of ‘Pool Piece’ but the real skill of the cast is the way they respond to their audience so that each child gets a special experience tailored specifically for them.  There is a huge amount of flexibility and openness, a sense that this is a magical world where everything is possible and nothing can go wrong, which seems to greatly appeal to children with learning difficulties who may have trouble making sense of the chaos of the real world.

After the session with the children, Katie, the choreographer, sums up what’s been the most important features of this week’s rehearsal.  This includes the need to give space between the actions, to allow for moments of silence and moments of pure water effects.  To bring things back into focus by making movements deliberate and ritualistic, to take time with the props and consider their importance as emblems.  To keep the sense of discovery and adventure, that everything is new and beautiful each time the show is performed.  With each of the character days, for the principal character whose day it is to perform with the real conviction that the day is centred on them.  Finally to always consider the group interaction, for the cast to support each other and the carers in making the experience of the show a complete coherent whole.  Tim, the director, talks about how much they are all learning from the rehearsal process.  He explains how this show, because it’s not one off performances but a connected series over six days of visits in the same school, is a wonderful opportunity for Oily Cart to really get to know the children involved.  He feels this will deepen their already considerable understanding of working with children with PMLD and ASD.  He urges everyone involved to keep a rehearsal diary and post their thoughts on this blog as this will greatly help to evaluate the work that’s being done.

For the next part of the rehearsal, Katie and myself act as students.  The cast rehearse lifting the colanders and letting water pour through them in a kind of ritual shower effect around us.  This is followed by me going under a small clear plastic umbrella that protects me from the sprays that Umbrella Man and Sponge shoot at me.  Next a giant shower under the giant white umbrella is switched on and we travel under it.  I have a sudden flashback to being a small child in a car with my father driving through pouring rain.   It feels really cosy and protected.  We then bounce in the water with the umbrellas while examining our reflections in enormous silver disk mirrors before being sunk the goodbye song with our names.  There is a lot of emphasis on using the children’s names to give them a feeling of identity and belonging.  The whole show is built around the children and what they enjoy and find stimulating.  It feels like a very beautifully choreographed slow dance through water with lots of room for improvisation!

A Special Place in a Special School

May 18, 2008

My name is Griff and I am stage manager of the Oily Cart Theatre Co’s latest production for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and Autistic Spectrum Disorders: PoolPiece. We have just finished our third week of rehearsal, and have another two before we go live on 2nd June.

For the last two weeks (and the next two) we have been guests at the Livity School in Brixton who have kindly contributed the use of their own therapy pool, located at the centre of the school, so we can explore the impracticalities as well as the opportunities presented in doing a show in a pool. This is of great benefit, as no matter how wet we got our usual rehearsal space, and we tried, we couldn’t recreate that particular set of sound bending, light bouncing, humidity and scent qualities a pool has – and that’s before you even get in the water itself.

This year will be my third tour with Oily Cart presenting shows for special needs children in special schools all around the UK and the experience has been some of the most rewarding, enjoyable and, sometimes, emotionally moving work I have been involved in. Our normal tour schedule has us at a particular school doing shows for two days at a time before moving on to the next two day stint at the next special school, and in the time I have been working for the Oilies I have visited perhaps sixty or so schools. What has struck me most about these schools is the sense of community they inspire and, in the main, the dedication and good humour shown by the careers who have a demanding, unglamorous and low paid job to do for the children. The welcome we get at these schools is always genuine and the enthusiasm of teachers and staff for the work we do is very flattering, and it often seemed that although we had only been in a school for a couple of days we had already developed relationships with many of the children and had become a small part of that school’s life.

One of the things I am looking forward to on this touring show is that we will be longer at each of the schools. The show will take place over six school days and will provide more opportunities to share and build relationships and trust between the performers and the children, and allow those children who might take longer to get used to changes in routine to accept us being there and becoming involved where two day visits would not have been long enough.

Which brings us back to Livity School. Where their hospitality and generosity in providing their pool for us to rehearse and experiment in is much appreciated, the chance to become part of the school community and become part of the scenery (literally – the pool room is enclosed entirely in glass and surrounded by class rooms) to the children is invaluable experience. It affords us many opportunities to make and sustain relationships (I’m on first name terms with a few of the kids) and develop our own skills in dealing with the many types of disabilities these many types of children have.

Thanks again to all at Livity, and thanks to all those special schools up and down the country caring for these special children. They say it is a measure of a society how well it looks after it’s weakest, from what I have seen in schools across the UK we measure up pretty well.

Griff Fender – Stage Manager, Oily Cart Theatre Co.

Pool Piece rehearsal – 5th May 2008 – by Joseph

May 18, 2008


Approaching Oily Towers I hear the operatic tones of Sjaak who plays Umbrella Man “Umbrella – ella – ella – Oh, umbrella – Oh” from the window I can see him twirling a massive white parasol that would not look amiss atop an albino Elephant.

Inside Kathy is busy as Gong on the Gamelan, whenever I see this pot-tastic instrument I’m reminded of Eddie Murphy in ‘The Golden Child’ when he first enters the Tibetan temple to claim the knife that will kill the demon imprisoning the re-incarnation of Buddha. I am yet to have a go on the Gamelan whilst proclaiming ‘I, I, I, I want the kniiiiife… Pleeeease’. The Gamelan consists of eight 45” sized metal pots. Their open ends sit on strings laced through a carved wooden frame. The pots are played with red-ended beaters that are used to strike a raised nipple in the centre of the pot. They sound instantly watery and temple-esque, hollow and full, warm and airy.


Being at HQ Cart means that there is a distinct lack of water however the actors are enchanting as they mime pouring from their silveren (sic) bowls and beautifully patterned colanders. These Colander really are something to be appreciated, the punched holes make brilliant patterns, from swirls to zig zags to diamonds – note to self – buy a proper metal colander and throw out the faded scuffed plastic thing I have indoors.

A treat awaits us in the afternoon in the form of carpenter and didgeridoo player Stephen Heath who will be operating on the Oily show in both guises. Being as musically gifted as a reality TV auditonee my musical knowledge is somewhat limited. I was surprised to discover that didgeridoos come in an array of shapes and sizes and notes and that any tube will do! Stephen lets on that he used to practice on a Hoover pipe! I consider the dusty pole I have at home and the things I have sucked up with it and conclude that I will invest in a new piece of plastic tubing.

The didgeridoo is played via a well-placed raspberry – as we practice on a selection of bamboo and hardwood (termite bored) diges we soon discover that the repeated vibrations cause out teeth to tingle and our mouths to dribble. It’s not long before we are all wiping spittle from our faces as the addictiveness of getting the deep base tones right sinks in. There are various techniques to playing the Didgeridoo all of which produce a variety of sounds. A bark down the tube will result in a dingo type yap, placing the tongue behind the teeth creates a staccato – Kookaburra effect, Vocalising in the back of the throat creates the wonderful rhythms that only the dige can create.

Ever heard of circular breathing? I had and I had long ago concluded that it is impossible to breathe in and out at the same time. Indeed it is impossible but circular breathing is not about doing this impossible act, it is about simulating it. Dige players circular breathe in order to keep a continuous drone coming through the pipe. It is achieved by storing air in the cheeks when a new breath is needed and then pushing that stored air out of the cheeks with the cheek muscles whilst breathing in through your nose. We look ridiculous as we exaggeratingly inflate out cheeks and hyper extend our eyebrows as our brains struggle with the dual action of inhaling and squeezing our cheeks together. It is very much like rubbing your belly and patting your head. It takes real concentration to do and once you achieve it the resulting pride means you forget to continue with the usual mode of playing – breathing out through the mouth.  A few of us manage to achieve some semblance of circular breathing but our weak cheek muscles are only capable of pushing the air out fast enough to create the flimsiest of sounds.

Oily Rehearsal – Monday 12th May – by Joseph

May 18, 2008

The pool is a lot cooler – as is the weather. A child with his hair in three striking plaits giggles as Sjaak leads him in the pool. The Child is making mince meat out of an orange straw that he has securely viced between his teeth. There is a lot more space in today’s performance and the whole thing feels calmer. I notice the use of a Jacuzzi pipe that bubbles up beneath a floating mat on which the children lie.  The characters also feel more defined Sjaaks ‘Oeey ooeey ooooh’ is the staple Umbrella man call whilst bubbles teases with ‘Pish – pop – shhhhhhhh’ and Gong has her adorable ‘Hel-lo’ whilst matching her syllables on a little baby floating Gamelino.

Another addition is the water flicking where the surface of the pool is attacked with the fingertips as if it were a giant Subuteo table. The dancing in the water song now has a ‘rapido’ section where it is speeded-up. All the additions are a hit and one child makes his feelings known with whoops and jumps. The jumps become pronounced as Umbrella man lifts the child high up into the air. There is definitely a clearer contrast between the high energy moments and more relaxed moments making the show a delightful varied landscape.

When the children get out of the pool they are wrapped in huge fluffy towels but it is clear that many of them do not want to get out – and who can blame them.